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Collaborating with veterans to better meet their needs

News, Research, Veterans

The Centenary of Anzac Centre aims to improve the mental health of veterans and their families. At its heart is a collaborative approach which capitalises on the strengths and experience of diverse stakeholders around the country in order to build a veteran mental health network.

Earlier this year, with the formation of a Veterans Advisory Committee, veterans themselves were welcomed in an advisory capacity, joining researchers, clinicians, ex-service organisations, and agencies caring for veterans.

Dr Mark Hinton, Director of the Anzac Centre’s Treatment Research Collaboration, explains that “The Veterans Advisory Committee was established to ensure that the work of the Anzac Centre stays grounded in the day-to-day issues that are priorities for veterans with mental health problems and their families.”

The practice of seeking the input of members of the community in mental health service development and delivery is a growing phenomenon. In Australia and internationally, engaging these ‘experts by experience’ is increasingly seen as vital, and with good reason. Their insights gained through experience contribute a valuable perspective to assist decision making about how services should be delivered, enhancing the quality and encouraging people to seek, and stay with, treatment.

Within the Veterans Advisory Committee, being an expert by experience means having relevant knowledge of the mental health concerns of veterans and a demonstrated empathy and understanding of the impact of poor mental health on the veteran and their family.

In forming the committee, potential candidates were identified and invited to participate with the aim being to ensure the committee is representative of the diverse veteran community. It includes older and younger veterans from the Navy, Army and Air Force, with varied deployments. Further recruitment will be undertaken by the committee members.

The committee’s role is to review, advise and offer recommendations regarding the activities and priorities of the Anzac Centre, both in the research and practitioner support areas.

To date this has included providing insights on the unique nature of service culture and values, providing feedback on the Anzac Centre’s research agenda, improving the approach to recruitment for research trials, advising on how to set up the treatment research clinic so it is veteran-friendly, and providing advice on how to help professionals understand the veteran experience.

Jane Nursey, Director of the Practitioner Support Service, says that hearing from veterans is critical in fulfilling the Anzac Centre’s aim of improving veteran mental health.

“If we can more fully understand veteran culture, their priorities and needs, then we can help practitioners and services to make their practices more veteran-friendly,” she says.

As an example, Ms Nursey notes that with the committee’s guidance, the educational seminars that the Anzac Centre offers free of charge are being reviewed to ensure they educate attendees on military and veteran language and culture.

Dr Hinton reports that the committee “is supportive of our rich research agenda, but they have made some great suggestions too, such as looking into the importance of social connectedness at transition out of the military, the impacts of sleep and pain on mental health, as well as the need to do further research into preventing suicide. We’re keen to look into incorporating their ideas into our planning”.

One of the members of the committee, Mr Barry Minister OAM says that, “The Centenary of Anzac Centre offers a unique opportunity for a conversation between veterans and the various individuals and groups that play a part in supporting veterans experiencing mental health difficulties. Being a part of this committee is a fantastic way to help improve the lives of veterans.”